After my health scare, I became very curious about the science behind health, illness, and longevity. I think if you follow your own curiosity about life and health, it can really help you live a longer, healthier life.
I also believe in this fundamental principle: change your mind, change your health. Being continually curious about health means taking charge of your health by taking charge of what you know: Are you willing to learn something new about the agingprocess instead of passively accepting the old ideas that are not supported by the latest research?
The healthiest older people I’ve ever met have stayed fascinated and curious about the world no matter what their hardships or health. Their curiosity and learning keep them engaged and connected and is often part of a powerful purpose.
One of our residents at Aegis Living loves to tell stories about traveling to 150 countries. At age 97 she seems at least 20 years younger than she is. Quiet and composed, and a bit of an introvert, she’s a fast and engagingtalker. She went to graduate school in psychology, which seems remarkable given her age, and worked for the Red Cross during World War II. Her assignment was to travel to bases to set up social clubs for the soldiers since the military couldn’t do it. The men at that time were lonely, and she was treated like a caring den mother during the time it took her to get each place up and running. Then she’d move. She did that work for 50 years in all. Once, she and her husband went around the world without a single reservation. They’d hop on trains, planes, and buses and stayed at bed-and-breakfasts, using sign language to get around. If you ask her what place she liked best, she’ll tell you, “Where I’m at.”
That same spirit of curiosity about your health plays a unique role in your life. Even if you’re not a science type, knowledge about the biology of aging—coupled with experience—can inspire you to take action.
Aging as a Risk Factor— Not a Prescription—for Decline
Aging and decline are not synonymous. Science is proving why that is true. Once thought to be inextricably connected, aging and illness are now understood to be two separate trajectories. You will grow older, but your aging process may not involve illness.
The common feature for nearly every major health problem—from hypertension and diabetes to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease—is that the risks increase as we get older. Why is that? What is inevitable and what is not?
There is a whole world of scientific research proving what Eastern and alternative medicine have advanced for generations. Our bodies are designed to keep us well, not sick.
Even so, our biochemistry has inner mechanisms that slow down our functioning as we age. Fortunately, we have some control over how we “turn on” and “turn off” our cellular health. Thus, our rate of aging is determined by a combination of our genes, lifestyle, exposure to harmful chemicals and diseases, access to health care, physical activity, and the foods we eat.
While the majority of our bodily functions peak shortly before age 30, most of them remain adequate because most organs start with considerably more useful capacity than the body needs. This phenomenon, called functional reserve, is what allowed me to get from my 30s to my 50s still in one piece, despite pushing my body. We have a lot of built-in redundancy we can draw on to recover and recharge.
The Life and Death—and Aging—of Our Cells
Our trillions of cells are organized into different tissues and organs. Many of these cells reproduce continuously. Others proliferate on demand, such as white blood cells, which multiply in response to an injury or to fight infection.
Other types of cells do not typically regenerate, such as those in the heart, muscles, and nerves—they live for decades. As time passes, those cells die, outpacing the production of new cells, leaving us with fewer cells and less capacity to repair the damage that occurs in our bodies. Some of our organs become damaged, and we may develop health problems that we could have resisted when we were younger.
Here’s what most of us don’t know or understand: the programming of our cells’ life spans is not fixed. Essentially, you have a lot of control over the life expectancy of your cells. This is a really big deal when you think about it. We are not at the mercy of chance or heritage. Your cells have a natural lifecycle with two masters—your genes and your environment. It’s similar to the nature-versus-nurture debate when it comes to gender differences. Some gender attributes are genetically based and appear automatically at birth (differences in genitals, for example). Other attributes are turned on and turned off or enhanced or toned down as a result of social cues, personality, and life events (assertiveness, risk-taking, emotionality).
While your genes are powerful predictors of health, longevity, and predisposition to certain diseases, they’re only part of your story. You can think of genetics as the first or second act of the five-act play of your life. They set the action in motion, and like characters that come and go at particular moments, and have specific roles that evolve over the plot of your life.
Cardiologist and holistic health leader Dr. Mimi Guarneri explains:
That’s why you don’t have a nose coming out of the top of your head: because the nose genes get turned on in the right place at the right time in the embryo. As people expose themselves, and their genes, to different environments, certain genes will get turned on and turned off.
Dr. Guarneri emphasizes:
The important thing is that we know that genes are just the tip of the iceberg. We see that 70% to 90% of the chronic diseases we diagnose are related to environment and lifestyle. The way I teach it to my patients is this: If you have a tree and your tree has some sick fruit on it, you can cut off the fruit or you can look at the soil and you can fix the soil. The soil is your nutrients. It’s your clear air and water that’s not coming out of plastic bottles that have toxins. It’s fitness and sleep and the way you respond to stress and tension. It’s your biofield, and all the microorganisms that live in your gut, and so on. All of these things interact with your genes to determine whether you get sick or you stay well. This is why identical twins, genetically identical at birth, can have totally different genes turned on and turned off at midlife.
Not everyone in the family gets the same inheritance or the same environment, as we’ve seen with our Aegis Livingresidents. Some of the most vibrant people in our communities had siblings who died in their 60s and 70s. Ultimately, we are degenerating and regenerating all the time—it’s just that degeneration catches up to us. Our plump, youthful grape-like cells gradually dry up, shorten, and deform into raisin-like cells.
At the same time, bodies are designed to repair, heal, and rejuvenate. With the habits of health I’m describing, we can maximize and even enhance our health and healthy life span. We can start by addressing what we eat, and begin to reset and regain ourhealth from the inside out.
To learn more about cell health, ways to stay curious about your health, as well as other longevitytips, check out my latest book, 30 Summers More, an Amazon # 1 best seller in Aging!
Next time, I will be sharing some surprising things about sugar! In the meantime, what is 1 thing about your health you are curious about?
Live well, Live long, Wellness Warriors!